Why does Ethan ponder the tombstones of Ethan and Endurance Frome?
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In Chapter Four, Ethan runs some errands in town. While there he runs into Denis Eady briefly, and worries that the young man might be headed toward the Frome farm. Ethan also stumbles onto Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum kissing; he realizes with sadness that these two need not hide their passion, while he has been torturing himself over a simple kiss with Mattie. As he rides back to the farm, he takes note of a tombstone that has always interested him because the man in the grave shares his name: "SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ETHAN FROME AND ENDURANCE HIS WIFE, WHO DWELLED TOGETHER IN PEACE FOR FIFTY YEARS."
The old tombstone is a bit of ominous foreshadowing. As the tombstones mock Ethan with the reminder of other Fromes who never were able to leave Starkfield, this tombstone foretells the living Ethan's fate. The Ethan Frome of the tombstone lived with his wife, Endurance, for fifty years. The language is of compulsion and forbearance rather than a celebration of the couple's life together. The best that can be said of them is that they "dwelled together in peace," and the wife's name is a symbol and a bit of foreshadowing. For the living Ethan, love will not be the mark of his life with Mattie or Zeena. Endurance will be the virtue that Ethan will be forced to cultivate, and he will have long decades to do it.